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Physical vs. Chemical

Physical vs. Chemical
We're hitting the books and going back to basics with today's topic: What exactly is the difference between physical and chemical exfoliation? Should we be doing one instead of the other? Is it even safe to do both? There are so many questions that come to mind when we think about exfoliation. But one that we wholeheartedly believe cannot be doubted is just how important exfoliation is for maintaining the overall health of our skin.

When we exfoliate, we are removing the buildup of dead skin cells on the top layer of our skin or epidermis. Removing lingering dead skin will stop them from clogging your pores (and ultimately forming pimples) while also boosting cell growth by clearing the way for new skin cells to rise to the surface. Not to mention, shedding that layer allows for your skincare to better penetrate deeper into the dermis (huge!). Following an exfoliation routine that suits your skin type and needs will not only help keep acne at by but will tackle unwanted texture and reveal smoother looking skin.

Physical Exfoliation


Physical exfoliation is pretty self-explanatory, but to clarify, it is the act of mechanically removing dead skin cells from your face and body. This method can include a gentle scrub, warm washcloth, a body brush or luffa as well as dermaplaning.

The most important thing to remember about physical exfoliation is how easy it can be to overdo it, especially if you are using a harsh face scrub with a heavy hand. Whenever you are about to exfoliate, always go slowly and gently - this includes brushes and washcloths. The last thing we'd want you to do is to cause hyperpigmentation or tiny microtears in the skin because you went too hard with the apricot scrub (btw, don't). For this reason, make sure to look for a finely-milled exfoliant like our Enzyme, to gently and effectively refresh the skin.

Chemical Exfoliation


When beauty gurus and brands talk about chemical exfoliation, they are specifically referring to one or all of the following: AHAs (Glycolic, Lactic Acid), BHAs (Salicylic, Citric Acid), as well as Enzymes. The way chemical exfoliants work is by dissolving the dead skin cells on top of your skin to reveal a brighter and healthier complexion.

It is super important to select the right chemical exfoliant for your skin type, as it can be difficult to tolerate if you select too strong of an acid. For example, those with acne-prone skin will love salicylic acid and those with a much higher tolerance can greatly benefit from glycolic acid. Anyone dealing with sensitivity should opt for the lowest concentration of lactic acid since it's incredibly hydrating for the skin. Honestly, this process is largely trial and error and we always advise spot checks before applying anything to your face, especially when handling a chemical exfoliant.

So, which should I be doing?


Both physical and chemical exfoliation are ideal to work into your routine, with a measured approach - though many choose to do one over the other exclusively. You can start by exfoliating daily if you're using a chemical exfoliant with a lower percentage (Solution I and Solution II are examples of this, used morning and night after cleansing and before moisturizing). In the evenings, you can incorporate a stronger chemical exfoliant two to three nights a week - think AHA Cream (lactic acid, good for beginners or those with sensitive skin) or AHA Gel I (glycolic acid, good for those who are adjusted to AHAs and with a higher tolerance). The key with chemical exfoliation, as we mentioned, is starting low and slow and taking a trial and error approach to find what works for you.

As for physical exfoliation, saving this for one to two times per week with a gentle-yet-effective product like Enzyme will give you that deeper and manual exfoliation (we like to use ours in tandem with Mask for a deep clean and refresh once a week). The beauty of a product like Enzyme, is that not only does it provide that physical exfoliation, but it's also formulated with hyaluronic acid to ensure your skin remains hydrated and healthy.

Which form of exfoliation is your fave? Let us know in the comments below!

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